Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 28

Russia’s secret police tortured Chechen prisoner Dukh-Bakha Dushuev to make him help fabricate a phony criminal case against a Chechen diplomat, Dushuev charged in a July 24 appearance before a London court. The administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin has been using Dushuev’s “confession,” which he has now disavowed, as part of its effort to extradite Akhmed Zakaev from Britain. It would appear from Dushuev’s dramatic July 24 testimony, in which he appeared as a surprise witness for the defense, that the Russian authorities tried to cover their tracks by withholding his identity from the British authorities. This was despite the fact that the Russians had already arranged for him to be shown on domestic Russian television making his anti-Zakaev “confession.”

In addition to destroying whatever slim hopes may have remained for the Kremlin to win the Zakaev extradition case, this new development has transformed the case into a major threat to the credibility of the Russian authorities. It will now be possible for British judge Timothy Workman to question the Russians in detail about their investigation and judicial procedures, and this is something that he has already begun to do. The facts uncovered by the hearing before Judge Workman’s court–an independent, impartial forum vastly different from the domestic courts to which Russia’s police and prosecutors are accustomed–make it increasingly clear that today’s Russian criminal justice system still has a great deal in common with that of the Soviet era. The Russian prosecutors undoubtedly thought that they could get away with presenting Dushuev’s written “confession” without running the risk that Dushuev himself might appear before the court. After all, anonymous denunciations, selective manipulation of evidence, and hidden cooperation between prosecutors and judges are familiar practices in Russia.

As reported by the Moscow newspaper Novaya gazeta and by the website Grani.ru, Dushuev told the British court that he was seized last November by Russian servicemen at a checkpoint in Chechnya. (He was working at that time as head of security for the building of the Ministry of Culture in Grozny.) Dushuev was brought to the main federal military base at Khankala and thrown–handcuffed and with a sack on his head–into a damp, unheated pit, which was covered with a metal grating and designed so that it was impossible for him either to sit down or to stand fully upright. According to Dushuev, the Federal Security Service (FSB) interrogated him every day, accompanying its questions with beatings, electric shocks and threats to cut his throat. After six days they succeeded in getting him to sign a statement “confessing” that he and Zakaev had run a criminal enterprise together in Dagestan and that both were members of an extremist Islamic military unit. He also signed a separate “confession” declaring that Zakaev had ordered the 1996 kidnapping of two Russian Orthodox priests. (Dushuev’s objection that in 1996 he had not yet even met Zakaev was fruitless.) It was this second document that the Russian government later presented to the London court as part of its bid for Zakaev’s extradition.

Dushuev said that his captors told him that if he should later try to recant his testimony they would flay him alive. They made him submit to a filmed interview in which he recited a memorized text about Zakaev and the priests. Two of those participating in the interview, which took place in the FSB building in Grozny, told him that they were correspondents for the television program Sovershenno sekretno (“Top Secret”). On December 15 that interview was broadcast on Russia’s NTV network.

According to Dushuev, it was only then that he was taken before a judge, who ordered his imprisonment without even asking what had caused the prisoner’s obvious wounds. In early 2003 he was released from prison, but a Chechen FSB employee–a former schoolmate–warned Dushuev that the authorities were planning to murder him and then to blame Zakaev for the murder. So he left Grozny as quickly as possible. He now lives, he said, in a safe place outside the boundaries of Russia. He confirmed to the British court that the written testimony accusing Zakaev of the priests’ kidnapping–and presented to the court by the Russian government–was the text that he had signed after being tortured.

An article by Anna Politkovskaya for Novaya gazeta noted that Dushuev walks with difficulty. This is typical, she said, of Chechens who have undergone interrogation by Russian security personnel. Though only 35 years old, he looks as if he were 50.